Aniseed is a herb with a faint liquorice taste that is common in Mediterranean cooking. It comes from the same family as coriander, cumin, parsley and dill. The herb is also known as “anise” “anis,” or “anise seed.”
The aniseed plant, pimpinella anisum, is native to the Mediterranean region and Southwest Asia. Both the seeds and leaves have the distinctive taste, but it is usually only the seeds that are used. Aniseed is often used to flavour baked goods and savoury broths. The flavour has similarities with other spices such as star anise, fennel and liquorice.
Despite its near worldwide cultivation, aniseed remains most popular in recipes from the Mediterranean region. It is very common in baked goods such as breads, cakes, and biscuits; the slight sweetness of the herb adds a complexity and interesting dimension to otherwise more “ordinary” recipes. Many cooks will also add it to soups, stews, and savoury sauces for similar reasons. The herb tends to open when simmered, which can release many of its essential oils. The result is often an intricately flavoured meal that does not require much effort on the part of the cook.
Aniseed is also the predominant flavour in a number of Mediterranean liqueurs and is widely used in a variety of regional and ethnic confectioneries. The Greek drink, Ouzo carries its distinctive flavour, as do the Italian Sambuca, the French Pernod, and the Turkish Arak. Most of these are served as cordials and after dinner drinks.
The Ancient Romans often served spiced cakes with aniseseed, called mustaceoe at the end of feasts as a digestive. This tradition of serving cake at the end of festivities is the basis for the tradition of serving cake at weddings.
In addition to its use in cooking, aniseed also has a long history as a medicinal herb. The ancient Romans thought the plant promoted better sleep, and the seed is still used in herbal teas for this purpose. The oil and sometimes the seeds have also been used by a variety of cultures to help with digestive problems. This may be part of the reason why drinks like Ouzo and Sambuca are popularly consumed after large meals.
Get these and other fabulous fresh spices from the Cygnet Market or at the Garden Shed and Pantry.
Check out the newly renovated pantry and the special Spice offer.